Previous Projects

Dr Bart Besamusca created an international database on Arthurian fiction in Europe:
Uncovering Joyful Culture: Parodic Literature and Practices in and around the Low Countries (13th-17th centuries)

This project will demonstrate the importance of 'joyful culture' as a major cultural phenomenon in late medieval and early modern society. Joyful culture can be defined as a shared system of sociability for groups and individuals organising playful performances and activities in a ritualised way, in which parody has a central role. Building on the example of the Low Countries, the project will offer a comparative, transnational approach, in order to show how joyful culture helped to bind together various social groups in pre-seventeenth-century society, and how parody was used to reinforce group identity and the sense of belonging to a community, whether at the scale of a regional political entity, a city, or a professional group.

Rather than insisting on the potential of carnivalesque festivities to express tensions and social conflicts, as historians have often claimed, this project will demonstrate that joyful culture also had an important role in securing social stability and cohesion, thanks to the use of an inclusive form of parody, developed in themes such as friendship, the praise of drunkenness, sexuality and obscenity. This project will thereby refresh the broader field of cultural studies, by re-evaluating concepts of the festive.

Defining ‘Europe’ in Medieval European Geographical Discourse: the Image of the World and its Legacy, 1100-1500

The project shows how the Image of the World (Imago Mundi), one of the most influential texts in European intellectual history which described the world as it was known (or imagined), contributed to the development of the idea of Europe.

The Art of Reasoning: Techniques of Scientific Argumentation in the Medieval Latin West (400-1400)

This project discusses the practices of argumentation and reasoning from the early Middle Ages up to the period of the medieval universities, by examining annotations, commentaries and diagrams in medieval manuscripts.

  • Project leader: Prof. Mariken Teeuwen
  • Duration: June 2016 - May 2020
  • Funding: NWO Free Competition
Music And Late Medieval European Court Cultures

This project will explore the role of music in late-medieval court cultures of the ‘long fourteenth century’ (1280-1450) on a European scale. The project will focus on music in relation to three central cultural dimensions:

  1. the other arts such as poetry, visual arts, and architecture;
  2. material culture from manuscripts to jewelry and dress;
  3. the performance of social ritual, from the liturgy to informal interactions among courtiers.
  • Project leader: Prof. Karl Kügle
  • Duration: 2016 - 2020
  • Funding: ERC Advanced Grant
Sound Memories: The Musical Past in Late-Medieval and Early-Modern Europe (SoundMe)

An international consortium of music scholars will investigate the genesis and early development of the concept of ‘music of the past’ in 13th-century Paris, made possible by newly invented technologies of writing musical time.

They will also trace the deployment of such music in the service of various political and religious agendas across Europe in a series of case studies ranging chronologically from the 14th to the 16th century.

They are supported in their efforts by the singers of the Ascoli Ensemble (The Hague) who will be instrumental in disseminating the research to the general public.

  • Project leader: Prof. Karl Kügle
  • Partners: University of Cambridge, University of Heidelberg, Charles University Prague, Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw
  • Duration: 2016 - 2019
  • Funding: HERA
  • Project website
Truth-tellers: The Mentality behind Subversive Speech Behaviour in Narratives in the First Printed books in Dutch, 1450-1500

Although freedom of speech was not a civil right in the late Middle Ages, vocal criticism of power in the towns of the Low Countries was widespread.This project aims to investigate the mentality behind subversive speech behaviour in narratives in the first printed books in Dutch (1450-1500). I will examine the mentality – the ‘characteristic ways of thinking, feeling, imagining and acting’ – behind this pervasive existence of subversive speech by analysing truth-tellers in narratives, characters who candidly express, at their peril, their truth to those in power. They will be tracked in the first printed books (1450-1500) in Dutch. The research will shed new light on the conceptualization and social acceptability of freedom of speech before the Modern age.

Architects and bureaucrats: the court and the origins of architectural planning in Northern Europe (1370-1540)

Contrary to the general belief that the origins of ‘modern’ architectural planning go back to Renaissance architectural theory, this project will attempt to demonstrate that the modernisation of planning, which means working out complete building plans prior to construction, was closely related to the administrative reforms of central government in the Late Middle Ages.

The centralisation of administration by the Northern European courts had a major impact on the production of architecture a century before architectural treatises were introduced in the North. New bureaucratic procedures necessitated the recording of decisions and agreements that were previously left implicit. New building administration led to a standardisation of accounts and construction documents, and encouraged the rationalisation of architectural planning. It gave rise to a better documentation of the design and the construction process, which led to the development of modern conventions in recording architecture in drawings and textual documents.

  • Project leader: Merlijn Hurx
  • Duration: January 2014 - December 2017
  • Funding: NWO
Mind over matter. Debates about relics as sacred objects c. 350 - c. 1150

With the cult of relics, Christians explored the use of the material world to reach their god and achieve salvation. Contrary to what is often maintained, however, the role of relics in Christian religious life was not self-evident and unchallenged. From their earliest history on, the boundaries of interaction between the material and the divine provoked debate and dissent. Could the remains of saints embody the divine or were they references to the divine? Should they be venerated or was this idolatry?

This project is the first attempt to systematically map out these discussions and disagreements in the West from Late Antiquity until c. 1150. Instead of focusing solely on normative texts and text editions, as is usually done, this project foregrounds neglected material: inscriptions engraved at cult sites and marginal annotations in manuscripts that expressed new ideas and controversial thoughts. Additionally, the project explores the material objects themselves: relics, the reliquaries in which they were kept and the physical setting of the cult.

  • Project leader: Janneke Raaijmakers
  • Project members: Jelle Visser (PhD), Elisa Pallottini (postdoc)
  • Duration: December 2013 - December 2018
  • Partner institutions: Poitiers, CÉSCM
  • Funding: NWO - VIDI
Charlemagne’s Backyard? Rural society in the Netherlands in the Carolingian Age. An archaeological perspective

The project studies the Carolingian economy in the Low Countries, from a combined archaeological and historical perspective. Key research themes include peasant agency, manorialization and church property.

  • Project leaders: F.C.W.J. Theuws (UL) and Mayke de Jong (UU)
  • Project members: F.C.W. Goosmann (UU, post-doc), M. Jansen (UL, PhD candidate), W. Kemme (UL, PhD candidate), and J.A. den Braven (UL, PhD candidate)
  • Duration: April 2013 - March 2018
  • Partner institution: Leiden University
  • Funding: NWO, Vrije Competitie
Late medieval court culture in the northern Low Countries: Visualizing, interpreting, and contextualizing music fragments

The northern Low Countries in the later Middle Ages were ruled by important noble families who contributed considerably to the political, social, and cultural exchanges across Europe at the time. Sharing social and cultural practices as well as family ties with the top echelon of European aristocracy including the rulers of France, England, and the Empire, they maintained a lively cultural scene in Holland.

This project focuses on the second half of the long fourteenth century (c. 1350-1420), taking into consideration secular and sacred music, visual art, as well as poetic and narrative texts. A group of parchment fragments kept at the university libraries of Amsterdam, Leiden, and Utrecht which bears witness to significant musical activity in the northern Low Countries in the later Middle Ages will take central stage. The variety of genres and their multilingualism (French, Middle Dutch, and Latin texts) point to a lively cultural activity at a court in the Dutch-speaking region of Europe, making the court of Holland at The Hague a prime candidate for the provenance of the fragments.

  • Project leader: Karl Kügle
  • Project members: Eliane Fankhauser (PhD candidate)
  • Duration: September 2013 - August 2017
  • Partner institutions: University of Oxford, Digital Image Archive of Medieval Music
  • Funding: NWO-Promoties in de Geesteswetenschappen
The Changing Face of Medieval Dutch Narrative Literature in the Early Period of Print, 1477-c.1540

The 'Changing Face' project aims to study, for the first time, the corpus of early printed Dutch narratives as a whole, focusing on three domains in particular:

  1. The characteristics of the corpus
  2. Textual transformations
  3. Presentation strategies

As the printing of narratives in the early period of print is a cross-European phenomenon, the researchers relate their observations to the results of scholarship on printed narratives in other European languages in order to find explanations for the diversity and the success of the early printed narratives, such as the popularity of specific literary themes and the appeal of features like lyric passages and woodcuts to the contemporary audience.

  • Project leaders: Bart Besamusca (Utrecht) and Frank Willaert (Antwerp)
  • Project members: Rita Schlusemann (Utrecht) and Elisabeth de Bruijn (Antwerp)
  • Duration: 2013-2017
  • Host institution: University of Antwerp
  • Funding: FWO and NWO
Emerging Standards: Urbanisation and the Development of Standard English, c.1400-1700

The objective of the 'Emerging Standards' project is to illuminate the complex processes involved in the emergence and development of Standard languages. Individual accounts of emerging Standard languages in, for instance, Early Modern Europe (cf. Deumert and Vandenbussche, eds., 2003) attach great importance to the role that language policies and authorities with power and prestige play in the standardisation processes (language history “from above”), while more covert factors such as the effects of national and international trade, work migration, and the book trade, have often been marginalised.

By using the example of the emergence of Standard English, this project explores the role of such factors in the origin and spread of a formal written Standard. To this end, a novel inter-disciplinary approach will be applied that combines historical linguistics, socioeconomic history and textual history. As this project explores an alternative history of language standardisation in England, the focus that was traditionally on the pre-eminent urban community – London – will be shifted to regional centres. The study focuses on the vernaculars of York (North), Bristol (Southwest), Coventry (West Midlands), and Norwich (East Anglia).

  • Project leader: Anita Auer (University of Lausanne)
  • Project members: Mo Gordon (PhD), Mike Olson (PhD), Tino Oudesluijs (PhD, University of Lausanne), Femke van Hilten (Research Assistant)
  • Duration: 2013-2016
  • Funding: NWO
Bilingualism in Medieval Ireland – language choice as part of intellectual culture

Is modern-day spoken bilingualism any different from historical written bilingualism? Do the same rules and theories apply? When an Irish scribe used Latin and Irish in one sentence, what does this tell us about his proficiency, his education and his audience? In short, what can medieval Irish bilingualism tell us about the society that fostered it?

  • Project leader: Peter Schrijver
  • Project members: Mícheál Ó Flaithearta (daily supervisor), Nike Stam MA (PhD) and Tom de Schepper MA (PhD)
  • Duration: June 2012 - June 2016
  • Funding: NWO, Vrije Competitie
In Tune with Eternity: Song and the Spirituality of the Modern Devotion

The textual culture of the Modern Devotion is more differentiated than previous scholarship has acknowledged, with respect to transmission, production, reception, and content. 'In Tune with Eternity' will provide new perspective to the field by developing an innovative view on the pragmatic functionality and the thematic uniqueness of Middle Dutch devotional song, particularly by including sermons and sister books into song research, and by methodological integration. This integration is imperative: these texts stem from one cultural environment and should not be studied separately.

  • Project leaders: Dieuwke van der Poel (UU) and Thom Mertens (Universiteit van Antwerpen, Ruusbroecgenootschap)
  • Project members: Cécile de Morrée (PhD) and Lisanne Vroomen (PhD)
  • Duration: May 2012 - September 2016
  • Funding: NWO and FWO
The Lindisfarne Gospels Gloss: New Perspectives on the Morphosyntax and Lexis of Old Northumbrian

As part of a previous project, an international research group compiled the Seville Corpus of Northern English (SCONE). This corpus makes available the texts (manuscripts and epigraphic material) collected and analysed in the course of previous research on the history of northern English from the 7th to the 16th centuries.

This electronic version of the texts includes both the edition of the manuscripts and inscriptions, and information about the language at different linguistic levels: spelling/phonology, morphosyntax and lexis.

  • Project leader: Dr Julia Fernández Cuesta (Seville University)
  • Project members of Utrecht University: Marcelle Cole
  • Partner institutions: Seville University, University of Westminster
  • Funding: the Spanish Ministry of Science and Technology and the European Regional Development Fund
  • Duration: 2012-2016
Marginal Scholarship. The Practice of Learning in the Early Middle Ages (ca 800-ca 1000)

Our knowledge of Latin texts from (late) Antiquity is mostly based on early medieval manuscripts. More manuscripts of the classics survive that were copied in the ninth century than in any succeeding century until the fifteenth. The margins of these manuscripts are filled with annotations in tiny script, adding layers of interpretation to the ancient texts so treasured in the early Middle Ages. Scholarship to date has failed to give these texts the attention they deserve. 'Marginal Scholarship' puts them in the spotlight and presents them as essential for our understanding of intellectual life in early medieval Europe, when the practices of scholarship and learning were formed for centuries to come.

  • Project leader: Mariken Teeuwen
  • Project members: Irene van Renswoude (postdoc), Evina Steinova (PhD)
  • Duration: 2011-2015
  • Parter institution: Huygens ING
  • Funding: NWO
The Dynamics of the Medieval Manuscript: Text Collections from a European Perspective

This cross-European research project studied the dynamics of a number of late-medieval Dutch, English, French and German miscellany manuscripts, focusing on the highly mobile short verse narratives they contain. Characterised by the migration of works from one manuscript context to another, this cultural phenomenon was ideally suited to the HERA JRP theme 'Cultural Dynamics'. In each unique, newly formed text collection new meanings are generated, enabling us to understand the cultural identity of the compiler or commissioner of a manuscript and to investigate how cultural, social and moral heritage is conveyed to new generations.

The comparative, multilingual approach made it possible to determine trans-European characteristics in the organisation of text collections and to analyse how new author and reader identities were created.

  • Project leader: Bart Besamusca
  • Project members: Gerard Bouwmeester, Daniël Ermens, Vera Westra (Utrecht)
  • Partner institutions: University of Bristol, King’s College London, University of Vienna
  • Duration: 2010-2013
  • Funding: EU HERA
Cultural Memory and the Resources of the Past: 400-1000 AD

The Early Middle Ages are the first period of history from which many thousand original manuscripts survive. Ancient literature and scholarship, the Bible and patristic writing have come to us through this filter. This rich material has mainly been used to edit texts as witnesses of the period in which they were written. But it also constitutes a fascinating resource to study the process of transmission and transformation of texts and other cultural contexts. It can shed new light on the codification and modification of the cultural heritage and its political uses, and constitutes an exemplary case study for cultural dynamics in general.

Just as the Carolingian period (8th/9th century AD) has filtered and reshaped the past according to its concerns, so the Modern Age has used and sometimes misused its ancient and medieval heritage.

The project consisted of four interrelated studies:

  1. Learning Empire – Creating Cultural Resources for Carolingian Rulership concentrates on the role of the popes as cultural brokers in the 8th century (Vienna)
  2. Biblical Past as an Imagined Community deals with learning in 8th century Bavaria and with the meaning of ‘populus’ in early medieval texts (Utrecht)
  3. Otherness in the Frankish and Ottonian Worlds which explores changes in attitudes towards aliens (Leeds)
  4. Migration of Roman and Byzantine Cultural Traditions to the Carolingian World, exemplified by the reception of the Historia Tripartita and by Freculf’s Chronicle (Cambridge)
  • Project leader: Walter Pohl (Vienna)
  • Principal investigators: Mayke de Jong (Utrecht), Ian Wood (Leeds), Rosamond McKitterick (Cambridge)
  • Partner institutions: University of Vienna, University of Cambridge, University of Leeds
  • Duration: 2010-2013
  • Funding: EU HERA
Dutch Songs On Line

On 19 July 2014 the results of the project 'Dutch Songs On Line' became available: 53,351 full song texts were made accessible online via the DBNL (Digital Library of Dutch Literature) and the Dutch Song Database. On top of that, 900 song books have become available in scanned format.

The Dutch Song Database (Nederlandse Liederenbank in Dutch) contains more than 150,000 songs in the Dutch and Flemish language, from the Middle Ages through the twentieth century. It contains love songs, satirical songs, Beggar songs, psalms and other religious songs, folksongs, children’s songs, St Nicholas and Christmas songs, and so on and so forth. The main sources for all these songs are songbooks, songsheets (broadsides), song manuscripts and fieldwork recordings. For every song the source is indicated where the text and/or the melody can be found. In some cases one can click directly to the complete text, or to the music, or to a recording.

  • Project leaders: Dieuwke van der Poel, Louis Grijp, Els Stronks
  • Duration: 2009-2013
  • Funding: NWO
Medieval Memoria Online (MeMO)

The MeMO portal aims to help scholars in carrying out research into the commemoration of the dead during the period up to the Reformation (c. 1580) in the area that is the present-day country of the Netherlands. The portal is also intended for local historians, family historians (genealogists), museum curators, teachers, pupils and students, and for anyone with an interest in history, art and culture.

Among other things, the portal contains a database with descriptions, photographs and other information concerning source types that are fundamentally important to memoria research. These source types include both texts and objects. Since the Reformation these sources have been scattered across the world, and they have therefore often become unknown to researchers.

  • Project leader: Truus van Bueren
  • Partner institutions: VU University Amsterdam, University of Groningen, Data Archiving and Networked Services (DANS)
  • Duration: 2009-2013
  • Funding: NWO
The Dynamics of Apocryphal Traditions in Medieval Religious Culture

Commemoration of the past is a central notion to medieval society. In the medieval period, the ritual commemoration of the ‘very special dead’, the saints, functioned in particular as a constructive instrument to build a religious community and to form or reform its identity. The commemoration of biblical saints (mainly the apostles) in the medieval period is central to this project, and more particularly the question how non-biblical (extra-canonical, or apocryphal) narrative traditions constituted main elements in this commemoration, in textual as well as pictorial contexts.

The diverse functions of extra-canonical traditions and their assessment in the Middle Ages will be examined. A collection of early medieval Latin rewritings of the apocryphal Acts of the apostles, indicated as Virtutes apostolorum but previously known as the so-called ‘Collection of Pseudo-Abdias’, serves as point of departure.

  • Project leader: Els Rose
  • Duration: 2008-2013
  • Funding: NWO VIDI